A Laois anti-wind turbine group staged a protest outside Laois County Hall in Portlaoise today asking the council 'is planning for sale?' over issues they believe exist with a Coillte wind farm planning application and Laois County Council.
People Over Wind (POW) claim that Laois County Council has continually failed to issue an enforcement notice on unauthorised work Coillte undertook on Cullenagh mountain near Ballyroan to connect wind turbines to an electricity grid.
Paula Byrne of POW claims that Laois County Council is not issuing an enforcement notice as this would mean Coillte would have to apply for retention on the site and would need an environmental impact assessment for this retention.
The anti-wind turbine group also claims that Coillte may have paid Laois County Council’s legal fees following an email they say they received from a 'legal professional in court' who said it would be 'unorthodox' for a developer to pay a planning authority's legal fees.
The Laois community group has spent €60,000 taking Laois County Council and Coillte to court over the unwanted wind turbines. The Coillte case went all the way to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
POW member, Paula Byrne, told the Leinster Express that she questions if the council is purposefully ‘leaving the door open’ for Coillte to connect to the electricity grid.
"Because we won against Coillte, Laois [County Council] had to concede their case and they had to take the planning permission away. That was three years ago when the unauthorised work took place. To date, there still has been no enforcement notice issued on Coillte and when Laois County Council were settling our case they said that Coillte would pay their legal fees.
"Why would a developer pay the legal fees of a planning authority? At very best it’s a little bit unorthodox and at very worst it’s a scandalous situation in what is supposed to be a democratic planning process," she said.
“If they [Laois County Council] issued an enforcement notice Coillte would then have to apply for retention because they have already begun work on the mountain. You cannot apply for retention on a site that needs an environmental assessment which is what we proved in Europe so now you’d be in a bind. Is it possible that Laois County Council is not issuing it for that reason to leave the door open for them?” she asked.
In a statement to the Leinster Express, Coillte said it has not paid or reimbursed Laois County Council's legal fees.
"Coillte has absolutely not, at its discretion, reimbursed Laois County Council’s legal fees in the JR [Judicial Review]. Any cost award made arising from the Court case is a matter of public record which Coillte shall comply with."
The CEO of Laois County Council declined to comment.
The anti-wind turbine group claimed a 'victory' in its campaign against a Coillte wind farm in Laois after a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018.
People Over Wind celebrated the ruling made in Europe in relation to State-owned forestry company's plan to build an 18 turbine wind farm to be built on Cullenagh mountain, Ballyroan.
The ruling did not overturn the granting of planning permission but it did require Coillte have to carry out an extensive environmental assessment of connecting the wind farm to the electricity grid, POW claims that this has not happened and the 'unauthorised' work is going ahead regardless.
The ruling was made after the Irish High Court referred the matter for a decision in March 2017. People over Wind had previously lost a Court of Appeal case against the wind farm.